Are YOU looking for a Dog Grooming job in Chicago?


I closed my dog grooming  business in mid 2006.  I was still netting about $300 a week (after I paid myself & all the bills), but  when I bought the business, I had over  100 either weekly or bi-weekly clients, and as those owners moved or their dogs died of old age, I was not replacing with new, high maintenance clients.  The economy had changed (due to Enron, 9/11, &… George H. W. Bush  & 2 wars…)  I thought it better to get out while I was ahead.

I am an experienced dog groomer.  I started apprenticing to a hobby breeder  who showed Miniature Schnauzers in 1967, and I graduated from dog grooming school in 1971, and then I apprenticed with some exceptional dog groomers who had been showing or were currently showing dogs. Those were the days, and they are now gone.  Many of those groomers were suspicious of grooming school graduates, and now I know why.  Back then, however, as my parents did not show dogs, there was no other way for me to get  the basic skills I needed.  Now, those experienced groomers  really don’t exist. Why is that?  The corporate refugees who just want to own a dog business either bought or started businesses. They have no integrity, generally know nothing about dogs & won’t learn—but they have the capital—& —if  YOU want to even chance making a living as a groomer, you have to weed through them.

Let me start at the beginning, when I first  experienced this.  It was in the 1980s.  A guy opened a ‘bed & breakfast’ for dogs in Lincoln Park—Cute Name.  I believe the business is now on it’s 3rd or 4th owner, but the first owner just had a concept & didn’t know anything about dogs. The concept was…no cages.   The first night they were open,  one dog bit another & required veterinary treatment, and another dog chewed up a wooden bench.  Seems the dogs didn’t really like that ‘open concept’ kennel all that much.  The owner fired me after about 3 weeks because I refused to bathe Lester Holt’s (yes–the newscaster—he used to live in Chicago)  deaf and thoroughly matted  Old English Sheepdog.  The dog walker  brought the dog in, &  the dog could not be dematted, & she would not  pay to have the dog shaved. I thought it a matter of integrity to not bathe the dog, as I knew he would never dry and I would cause skin irritations.

One shop owner , who didn’t know how to groom & had quit grooming school, but  had bought a  fantastic business in a great neighborhood, fired me for hanging up the collars wrong (& I didn’t even know I hadn’t hung them up ‘right’ at the time).  I had worked for her for about 3 months  when this happened.

One shop owner hired a woman who did not speak English and didn’t know how to groom, and when I told the shop owner that the ‘groomer’, Liz, didn’t know that  heat rises, and was not checking her dogs ( & her dogs were staying wet for hours), the shop owner said to me, “Heat rises!  Robyn, where are you coming up with that stuff?”  So I knew my days were numbered there.  She later apologized to me for all the times I told her to check another groomer’s dogs, and she had not listened to me.  But no matter.  She ended up selling her grooming business to….someone with capital, who had walked dogs—but knew nothing else about dogs.

I was offered a job at “The Furry Bistro.”  They are now out of business.  The owner, a corporate refugee, decided to  combine her love of baking with her love of dogs & opened the shop in a ritzy part of town (across from a well-established pet shop).  I knew things were not good when I came for the interview, she was over  1/2  hour late and did not apologize to me.  The shop was not yet open for business for the day, but she had at least 3 employees (at a minimum of $21 an hour in wages), standing around.  She told me her groomer (who was a snotty  recent grooming school graduate—-at least to ME)  was very busy & needed help.  The reason he was overwhelmed  was they didn’t believe in crating.   They’d tie a dog to a wall—& would just take one dog at a time.  If a client didn’t show up, or showed up late ( since the groomers are paid commission)—you didn’t make money…& that’s one of the reasons they are out of business now:  not managing the time well, too many people on their payroll.  If you take a job like that—where the owners ‘don’t believe in…’ what dog people know will not stress the dogs & keep them in business….be prepared to  not make a living wage, &  for the business to not stay in business.

I  got hired by Best Friends Pet Care.   I have to mention this because  although they ultimately  addressed my issues by continually sending a regional manager  to observe the manager  assaulting me they never fired him. I should have known something was not right, not only because their website tells you to apply with the  local facility directly—but then the manager needs corporate approval to hire you—-  but because staff  told me their last groomer had just walked out. Why? Turns out the  manager, Bruce Blaine, was verbally abusive.  As he was with me, for over a year.   He hated that clients went out of their way to  fill out reports that told corporate I was the best groomer they had ever brought their dog to.  Granted, I did have some communication problems with some clients who wanted their short haired dogs shaved,  but they were few and far in between.  Even though human resources told me I had increased their  dog grooming revenue by over 10%, they  cut my health insurance benefits because I was not working an average of 25 hours a week.  I said to them, “You are cutting my benefits because I manage my time well.”  & they said, “Yes, we are.”  I gave  notice, but no matter.  They are struggling again.  The worst thing, however, was that  they had a high turnover because Bruce was so abusive.   The regional manager was  always coming out to talk to Bruce, and I was not the only one who complained to her.  He was horrible to the women.  & After   the regional manager came out, things were ok for a day, and then he was right back demoralizing the women & blaming them for the incompetency of the guys on his payroll.The company was ultimately sold, and Bruce was  sent to another location as kennel help with no management responsibilities!

I was spirited away by a manager (who was the owner’s father’s girlfriend, Dena Conn) for a start-up, “The Chicago Academy of Dog Training.”  They are also now out of business—for several reasons.  The owner, Courtney Simon, suffered from some mysterious  chronic illness.  Although really an excellent dog trainer, she was not keeping dog training appointments, nor could she manage her own staff. Plus, the way the ‘kennel’ was set up, it was very labor intensive to clean.  An added problem was that the owner of Doggie Bath House, Dan London (they are now out of business, too), called and harassed them constantly.  Why?  He was just an evil son of a bitch, and because I refused to work for him— because I told him he didn’t have enough dog experience—his way of getting back at me was to force other small businesses to ‘fire’ me.  He had my resume (because I had answered a blind ad—very stupid of me…) , He even posted fake reports on Yelp!  Yelp did nothing.  In fact, Yelp!  charges business owners to remove bad reviews now—sort of a bribery situation if you ask me—but a legal business!  Sure, they’d remove the false reports, & he’d post again using a different name  and different email address.  Take Yelp! reports with a grain of salt—especially the glowing reviews.   The irony was–I was right.  So much for being right.   You would think this is illegal—right?  It is not.  It is legal for 1 business to harass another business.

Dena told me that the CAODT had a 300  client base waiting for a groomer. They did not. They had 1 client waiting for grooming.  I had to take part-time work elsewhere.  It’s not illegal to lie to employees.  From their lies, I went to PETCO.

I had applied at PETCO  a couple years before, & was suddenly called as they were booked 6 weeks out.  To make a long story short about them….I asked, & they (store manage & grooming department manager) told me —how many groomers they had on payroll. They had only 1 groomer, & 1 bather. “So,”  I said to the store manager & the grooming manager, “I will get bath dogs if there is no grooming so I can make commission.”  “Of course!”  They said, It would not be a problem. We cleared up the  6 week grooming backlog in 2 weeks—because, the first day I came to work, they  posted a congratulations poster to the bather who was now a groomer, & had hired 3 other bathers.  The only person making commission was the  grooming manager.  She also lied about taking my personal clients, they never  diluted shampoo—so the bathers were rinsing dogs forever.  They  didn’t believe in heating elements (they never checked the dogs anyways), so the dogs sat cold and shivering for hours with cold air blowing on them.  They really didn’t need me, & I could see the store, situated in a very affluent community, was not even breaking even.  They fired me for insubordination  after telling  me to break one of their  policies to accomodate a client, who then complained.  I told them  they had too many people on their payroll, and they told me it was none of my business. They also, against corporate policy—-took dogs in  for grooming without  proof of shot records, which led to  an owner accusing me falsely ( they  determined that).  If you need health insurance  and can live on minimum wage, go for it, but if you love pets, this is not the place to be.

A groomer who was trained at Petsmart borrowed money & bought a shop, and her 2 groomers  took her whole client base—which she didn’t realize, and after 1 day she didn’t even have 1 dog a day for me.   She was totally clueless.  She was out of business in 3 months.

Another groomer with an excellent reputation told me her  assistant was moving, which was why she hired me. We were busy for about 3 weeks, but her assistant didn’t leave, and that was all she really needed.

A groomer  hired me, her shop caught on fire.  My hiring was delayed.  I came in, finally, to work, and she had a bather—& she only did 6 dogs a day!  So that didn’t work out.

I was hired by Pawsatively Heaven Pet Resort for Sundays & Mondays. They are down in Chicago Ridge, over 30 miles from where I live.  This is a  wonderful kennel, and the  manager, Marty Sullivan, is a great guy.  So are the actual owners.  But the groomers are  little divas. Marty told me one was changing careers & moving on, one was retiring from grooming (but she wasn’t), & nobody wanted to  work on Sundays. I wasn’t even paying for my gas, but Marty assured  me things would pick up.  I was developing a bit of a following, but still needed part-time work, so I stupidly  responded to a blind ad on Craigslist.  Dan London—Doggie Bath House.  Again!  When I realized what I had done, I  went immediately to Marty & told him to check  his Yelp! reviews (sure enough, Dan  had posted lies) . Dan also started calling them and harassing them, claiming to be a current client.  He actually did this to several grooming shops & kennels he thought I worked for.  Can you imagine having the time to do this? Well, when you don’t actually work for a living—just own a business, and are not busy, you have plenty of time to be an asshole.    One Sunday I came  in to Pawsatively Heaven, & there was only  1/2  a gallon of diluted shampoo left.  I asked  the owner if she had some stored somewhere.  She told me what was in the closet was it.  I told her the girls had to know  they were down to this. What was going to happen? They were going to come in Tuesday & claim I used up the shampoo?  Suddenly, another groomer decided they’d work on Sunday & Monday, as I was getting those clients, & they no longer needed me.

I  kept interviewing.  Shop owners, not groomers, could not tell me how many dogs their groomers did in an average day.  One told me it was very important to learn the computer program for booking.  She had also been trained by Petsmart, & I  knew there would be an issue when she told me her breed was cocker spaniels.  Also,  the actual bathroom was in the shop next door.  Lots of issues there. They allowed an owner  to ‘help’ groom her own dog, & stuck her unbrushed Collie/Newf directly into the tub without brushing it.

I  worked up at Yuppie Puppy in Lake Forest, for about 8 weeks, going up there  twice a week. Go see for yourself.  See if you would want to board your dog in this  Ill. Dept of Ag. licensed kennel.  It is owned by the Whitakers—very  proudly a family owned business.  With daughter Lucy in California, Simon  going to Texas, and Dad clearly not knowing  one breed from the next,  and not really caring….he is a BUSINESSMAN—this place would be a joke were it not so stressful for the dogs…but it is totally legal. They constantly bitch about how hard it is to get help, but the lighting in the grooming room—which is also the kitchen—is terrible, and they don’t have enough dryers.  You really have to manage your time well. The owners do not do any physical labor beyond feeding the dogs.  I showed them that they were not charging enough for the grooms, & they told me I was an employee & it was not my business—-yet they didn’t mind me raising prices at all, and their main issue was my bad customer service.  Yep—I’m terrible with people who allow their dogs to urinate all over  and don’t control them.

Why did they fire me? At the end of a holiday weekend, they  booked too many dogs for us to  dry thoroughly, and my last dog was an out of control Golden Retriever—which they knew was hard to handle.  I told Simon I could not  handle the dog without help, and he accused me of not doing my job. Really.

You might have read in grooming industry magazines that you do not have to groom every dog—especially if it is safe for either you or the dog. But the Whitakers don’t read pet industry magazines. They had the audacity to tell the State of Illinois that I refused to do my job—(never mind that they threatened to withhold the pay I had coming). Initially, they told me  the average fee per grooming dog was $50 (according to their own computer records, it was $35), and there would be a 2 week delay in getting paid (it was actually 3 weeks). Do you want to go work for them?  You might make money.  Or not…

I  am now working for a very nice shop. Very clean.  Problem is, the owner was taught to groom at a grooming school, so she thinks she learned all there was to learn at a grooming school.  Even though she told me  I  am cutting corners, she has no issue with my grooming.  She just can’t figure out  how I get my grooms done faster than her 2 other groomers—also grooming school trained.   I ‘ve  shown her what I do  to get my dogs dried faster and fluffier, but she doesn’t believe it…so she won’t schedule dogs closer together. Here we go again. If a dog doesn’t show up, or is late, I am standing around—& that is after I’ve done laundry & filed cards!

Planet Pooch is opening 7 locations in  the metro Chicago area. The manager told me that they don’t buy from puppy mills, only USDA Licensed Breeders.  He doesn’t know that  ethical hobby breeders don’t sell to others to resell—that they want to meet the people who want their pups & to determine if  their dog would be right for them. He apparently doesn’t know the difference.  I’d rather starve.  This is the reason I lasted but a week at Pocket Puppies.  It just hurt too much, emotionally.  (Update:  they never opened.  Not sure why….)

There’s a businessman who opened a dog daycare in Mount Prospect.  You could make $350 a week!!!  Do you realize that isn’t even $19,000 a year?  Who could live on that?  More important—the person who doesn’t understand that that is not a living wage doesn’t have to work for a living.  Beware!  Lots of business people who own dog daycare facilities need groomers, but they can’t tell you how much you will make.  In fact, there is a woman recruiting for the dog grooming outlets at Walmarts in Aurora & Zion. When I asked her what her average groomer made in a day, or a week, she could not tell me.    But she provides a grooming manager/receptionist to answer the phone & deal with customers.  Wow!  I asked her, “Are you telling me you don’t pay that person at the rate of $35,000 a year, but you can’t tell me what the groomer makes in an average week?”  She stammered and b.s.’d me for a few minutes, but that was, essentially, what she was telling me. The person who did no physical labor was making more than the groomer who  was to provide   the means to pay the receptionist. What am I missing?

I have about  10 years left in my grooming career.  I work part-time at a great kennel, but were it not for the assistant managers who happen to be vet techs,  this job would be a nightmare.  Virtually 3/4 of the clientele  are ‘non-groomable’ short haired dogs:  Boxers, Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, Bulldogs.  This is the nature of the industry now.  Only the wealthy (or those who  are comfortable carrying boatloads of debt) can afford the non-shed breeds requiring dog grooming skills.  If your experience has been different in the Chicago area, please let me know.

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One Response to “Are YOU looking for a Dog Grooming job in Chicago?”

  1. Walking Your Dog in the Gold Coast Says:

    Walking Your Dog in the Gold Coast…

    […]Are YOU looking for a Dog Grooming job in Chicago? « Disparateinterests's Blog[…]…

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